College chief slams PM for ‘painful’ cuts

Kirklees College Dewsbury
Kirklees College Dewsbury

The principal of Kirklees College has attacked David Cameron over “painful” cuts to the institution’s budget, which amount to a whopping £450,000.

Peter McCann wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister after the government slashed adult funding for English as a second language (Esol) provision and other adult skills training for the forthcoming academic year.

It is another blow to the college, attended by around 18,000 students from across the area, which has already had to grapple with more than £2m worth of cuts since the beginning of 2014.

There are concerns that this latest development will have a significant impact on integration between communities, at a time when the area when the area has fallen under the national spotlight after two local teenagers fled to Syria to join ISIS earlier this year.

In his letter, Mr McCann wrote: “What is perhaps most concerning is the fact that this funding decision will impact severely in the area of Esol when this college has been publicly applauded in Home Office circles for the Prevent work we undertake in Dewsbury, and the rest of Kirklees, to foster integration through Esol provision and our culture of proactive, harmonious integration of students from all sections of society.”

Speaking to the Reporter Series this week, Mr McCann said that the announcement was a particular surprise given that on the same day the college received the news David Cameron made a speech on the importance of tackling extremism: “We (Kirklees) have had a problem in that we’ve become one of the most high profile places in this particular area and the college has been praised publicly by the Home Office for our work in integration,” he said.

“Not having the English language is a vehicle for isolation and extremism. So I found it extremely ironic that on the one hand one arm of government was praising the work that we do, while our budget in this area was being cut.”

Kirklees College has several campuses across areas including Dewsbury and Batley and currently employs more than 1,000 staff. However, while no courses will be completely eradicated as a result of the cuts, no guarantees have been offered about the possibility of redundancies.

In his letter, Mr McCann also accused the Prime Minister of showing a “lack of respect” towards the skills sector and criticised him for saddling the financial education sector with what he called a “disproportionate” financial burden.

“To achieve the previous reductions and agree a budget that the governing body has been able to approve has required another painful and difficult process,” he wrote.

“This was however concluded to meet already demanding timescales for 10 July. To then be told, 10 days later (and 10 days before the new financial year), that this process has to recommence, demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the value and the complexity of adult further education in an area such as Kirklees.”

Mr McCann, who had been principal at the college for four years, said that he felt compelled to speak out because he felt cuts to the further education sector as a whole have now become “particularly severe.”

“I think fundamentally the FE sector took our share of the burden of the cuts over the last Parliament. In further education we tend to be pragmatists and we accept that money is tight, but I felt on this occasion I needed to say something particularly in light of the work that we’ve done and because the sector is under real financial stress at the moment.”